We sat down with Maria to hear more about her work with the Vietnam Tooth Project. We hope you are as inspired as we are. Check out her stunning looks on Modavanti and watch the video below to learn how you can get involved with a great organization.
Tell us a bit more about yourself?
I grew up in Guayaquil, Ecuador but moved to New York City with my parents in 2000. After middle and high school in NYC it was off to Washington, D.C., where I graduated with a B.S. in Biology from Georgetown University. While at Georgetown, I tutored kids in grades 6-12 in math and science and had a brief stint on the sailing team (before I realized I was a nerd and not a D1 athlete). Currently, I live in Boston, MA where I attend Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM).
What are your passions?
Animals are where it all started. Growing up, I had four boxers, countless chickens, a turtle, and an iguana. I’ve spent a lot of time with animals since, most notably in a wildlife rehab center in South Africa where I had the chance to care for lions, leopards, cheetahs, rhinos, and other exotic animals. I will always be passionate about animal conservation and the beauty that exists in nature. This love of beautiful things has given me an appreciation for art of all kinds. I used to fill notebook after notebook with sketches of everything I laid my eyes on. In college, I explored digital art, photography, painting, and drawing. Art is a great lens through which to see the world. So why dental school and a passion for healthcare? I have come to realize over the course of my experiences that a lasting and sustainable world requires safe and healthy people. I want to be at the center of this mission moving forward. Oral health, as a critical part of people’s well being, drew me in and I have been afforded the opportunity to pursue my goals at an amazing institution, surrounded by like-minded peers and mentors.
What draws you to sustainability?
At Georgetown, I fulfilled my Biology major requirements with ecology courses in lieu of typical human biology. After all, my dental school education allows plenty of time for study of the human body. This decision to focus on ecology was a good one, for it opened my eyes to the harsh realities of ecosystem destruction and its impact on biodiversity and human well being. As an advocate of wildlife preservation and a lover of both animals and people, the sustainability movement is important to me.
What's your favorite sustainability badge?
Easy - eco-friendly (nature/ecosystems/animals) and fair trade (human rights/well being)
What is your inspiration?
Being in dental school has been incredibly inspiring. HSDM’s curriculum is structured so that for the first 2 years we join Harvard Medical School (HMS) and take all of the medical classes in addition to our dental classes in the afternoon. Being a part of both HMS and HSDM has afforded me the opportunity of being taught by doctors, dentists, and scientists who are the forefront of their fields. Learning medicine from these experts not only provides me with the knowledge I need for my career, but also gives me insight into the impact their discoveries have had on human life. Knowing that the work my professors do saves hundreds of lives every day is quite humbling and truly inspiring.
Tell us about your involvement with the Vietnam Tooth Project, how you got involved and the impact its had.
This past summer, I traveled to Vietnam to conduct my own research alongside the Vietnam Tooth Project team. The Vietnam Tooth Project is an oral health intervention project whose mission is to promote global health and reduce childhood malnutrition through education and oral health preventative services. The purpose of my research was two fold: 1) to assess the efficacy of oral health lessons for parents and 2) to survey local shopkeepers on how their food sales have changed over time. The goal is to help illustrate the link between processed foods and the overwhelming rise in childhood tooth decay in developing countries. Currently in Vietnam, 87% of children have decayed, missing, or filled teeth. Over our time there, we visited 3 schools and saw over 900 children! Getting the privilege to work with and learn from these children and their communities was an amazing experience and one that really solidified my interest in serving humanity beyond the boundaries of country, language, and culture.